Quick hit: Prop 8 ruled unconstitutional

Yesterday Vaughn Walker, Chief Judge of the Northern California U.S. District Court, ruled  CA Prop 8 unconstitutional on Due Process and Equal Protection grounds.  You can read the full ruling here (scribd online) or here (pdf).

There’s much more to be said about the detailed, thorough text of the decision, but for now it’s worth highlighting a couple points.  One, Judge Walker forcefully argued that Prop 8 was based on unproven assertions that gay and lesbian couples are inferior to straight couples:

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.  Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis,the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Secondly, the ruling is not just an argument for the equality of heterosexuals and sexual minorities, or an argument for marriage equality, it’s an argument for gender equality as well:

The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage. The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry. FF 21. Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed.

The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household. FF 19-20, 34-35. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage. FF 33. Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses’ obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. FF 48. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals. (Emphases mine)

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is an unprecedented declaration of gender equality from a federal court.  Amazing, and incredibly encouraging.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that in the end this isn’t about some abstracted notion of equality.  This is about how inequalities materially affect people’s lives – people who are fully human, and fully deserving of the rights, worth, and dignity that every human being merits.  This reflection by Celia Perry on what Judge Walker’s decision means to her as the daughter of a lesbian couple is a great reminder of what’s at stake here, and incredibly moving:

I was eight when Braschi’s case was decided. Like any normal eight-year-old, I certainly wasn’t up on LGBT caselaw, and I definitely didn’t know how precarious my family’s legal situation was. But although I didn’t understand it intellectually, I could feel it in my gut. I knew that my family was different, and that most Americans didn’t approve of it. No matter how loving a family is—and let me tell you, mine epitomizes the four-letter verb—that’s a whole lot of shame for a third-grader to internalize. And that shame is probably part of the reason why, in October 2008, I was a sobbing mess as I spoke at my moms’ wedding. (They’d scheduled the wedding before the November elections, knowing that Prop. 8 would likely pass, making their nuptials no longer legally viable.) As I stood before 150 of our closest friends and family with one mom on either side of me, so many things raced through my mind, like all the times I heard the word “faggot” casually thrown around at recess, and how Ellen DeGeneres stunned the nation when she came out on TV only a decade earlier. But most of all, the thing making me bawl like a baby was knowing that I hadn’t talked to my best friend about my moms being gay until after we’d graduated from high school in 1999. And that, right there, is why marriage is so important. It’s a public seal of approval. It’s our society saying that one’s sexual orientation, or the sexual orientation of one’s parents, doesn’t bestow second-class citizenship. And that it’s never something to be ashamed of.

It didn’t take Judge Walker’s ruling today for me to know that my moms deserve the rights of marriage. But after all this time, it sure is good to hear a judge say it.

“One’s sexual orientation, or the sexual orientation of one’s parents, doesn’t bestow second-class citizenship.”  Because there’s no such thing as a second-class human being.  This is a great day for the cause of equality, one more victory in the struggle to build a society where the full humanity and dignity of all people are respected.

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